Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eyjafjallajökull up close

It’s 6 am and storming outside. The wind is really strong, but not a problem for my sturdy tent. I had to put music on my headphones in the night though to block out the wind. Katja on the other hand is having problems with flapping tent parts. The wind comes in strong gusts, but there’s only a bit of rain luckily. Again it was roughly 8°C (46°F) in the night. We pack up and go for a morning swim at the outdoor pool in Vík. But the water is pretty cold, certainly not hot enough for a hotpot, and I shiver most of the time. Good thing there is a sauna so I can finally warm up. Katja is brave enough to jump in the pool and swim laps. After the dip, we have breakfast at Hotel Lundi, pick up some groceries for Sigrún and head back to her place briefly before we start today’s adventure: A super jeep tour on Myrdalsjökull to the site of the volcano that erupted last spring at Fimmvörðurháls as part of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

We arrive at the base of Myrdalsjökull just before noon, where they commonly offer snowmobile tours on the glacier. But this time we’re going up in a super jeep with our guide, Ásbjörn, and three Icelandic girls. I have the passenger seat up front and it’s fun to look at all the electronic gear – GPS, and lots of switches connected to the air tank to deflate and inflate the tires as needed. Once up on the glacier, we’re soon in a white-out (snow and strong wind) and can only drive via GPS. It reminds me of playing a video game, trying to keep the car on the track on the screen. In the midst of all the white, we get out for a few photos. The wind is incredible but it’s not as cold as I expected. Back in the jeep, we pass various landscapes and soon the guide says we’re right above Katla volcano. Katla is the 4th largest volcano in Iceland entirely covered by the icecap of Myrdalsjökull glacier. Katla usually erupts every 80 years, and with the last eruption being in 1918, the next one is overdue.

A short time later, we reach the site of last year’s volcano eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, where the fissure first opened at Eyjafjallajökull. A 300-meter long fissure opened during this eruption, and two new craters were formed, lovingly named Magni and Móði, after the sons of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. To see this site up close is amazing and beyond description, so of course we get out for a short hike. The whole area is still steaming and stinks like sulfur. The earth is covered with brightly colored rocks, disfigured by the heat and sulfur. In one hole you can still see the hot lava glowing and it’s here that Ásbjörn pulls out a grill grate and a package of hotdogs, complete with ketchup and mustard. I can’t believe we’re actually barbecuing hotdogs over a steaming lava hole! They’re done in just seconds too, it’s so hot. The ground is hot all over and it feels nice to sit in a warm spot. Just a short distance away, the hut Fimmvörðurháls is visible and a few hikers are in the area as well. Back in the car, we head back to base camp, mostly through a white-out with close to no visiblity. It’s great we had such nice weather at the volcano. After 4 hours and 70 km and lots of memorable impressions, I’m really tired. In particular it was interesting to see how much ash is up there, all the snow is grey and it looks like that won’t change for a long time to come.

We head back to Sigrún’s for coffee and then to Vík for some shopping and a quick stop at the beach. It’s 6°C (43°F) and the wind speed is quite high at 23 ms (83 kmh, 51 mph), perfect for watching high waves on the beach as long as we don’t get too close. On the way back to Sigrúns, we also make a quick stop at Reynisdrangar, but there’s no time to stay for long since a tasty salmon dinner is waiting for us. It’s been a full day and I’m glad to sleep in a warm bed again.